Sound Heritage: Martin (PDF)



The Story of a Young Fur Trader

NO. 30

Please note: This is a digital file.

This is a book that we have been looking forward to for some time. Ever since the Provincial Archives of British Columbia acquired the Imbert Orchard Collection in 1974, we have been aware of the interview with Martin Starret. Of the more than 900 interviews in this collection, the largest of its kind in Canada, this was reputed to be the best. Later, we began to hear parts of this lengthy interview, particularly the excerpt which Orchard used to introduce his historical documentary sound program, “Skeena: River of the Clouds”. In it, Starret recounted the Carrier legend of the creation of the Skeena River, “the way it was told to me.” His rich, authoritative voice and fine turn of phrase immediately impressed us. Could it be that Starret was British Columbia’s pre-eminent storyteller? Certainly as an observer, anecdotist and oral memoirist, one would have to go a long way to meet his equal. Starret had the ability to remember clearly, years after an event, the minutiae of its occurrence while appreciating its historical significance. Furthermore, he was a willing reconteur, pleased to co-operate with the inquisitive radio producer, Orchard.

Many people could have taken the Starret interview and constructed a book out of it. But no one would have been as well qualified for the task or as sensitive to the material as the man who began recording the reminiscence eighteen years ago. Imbert Orchard had long been planning a book on Starret but he had always found other more pressing projects. However, in early 1980, when we proposed that he now undertake the biographical volume on Starret for the Sound Heritage Series, he launched himself into the project with great energy. We have here then, the perfect combination for this volume, Canada’s pre-eminent practitioner of oral history joining forces with one of this province’s most interesting raconteurs.

This volume is a “first” for the Sound Heritage Series in that it is the first to be based entirely on the voice of one person. We are not breaking new ground in the field of oral history, however. A number of outstanding “oral autobiographies” have appeared, the best of which is probably Theodore Rosengarten’s volume, All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw (1975) the life story of a black Alabama sharecropper. The excellent British Columbia book A Very Ordinary Life (1974) chronicles author Rolf Knight’s mother’s fascinating life as the left-wing activist in Germany and Canada. Oral history is rapidly becoming recognized as an excellent way of presenting the life histories of “ordinary” men and women who would otherwise not leave behind any lasting records. We hope that this volume of the Sound Heritage Series will serve as an exemplar for this new form of autobiographical writing.


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